If you plan to be in Azerbaijan in March- you may be able to experience one of the best times of the year to be in the country! Nowruz (Novruz in Azerbaijani) has been a big part of Azerbaijan culture throughout its history whether it was ‘allowed’ or not.
Nowruz: Zoroastrian New Year’s
In Azerbaijan and other countries, Nowruz is a celebration for the beginning spring for the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox. It’s a time to appreciate the awakening of nature and the New Year. It is sometimes referred to as Persian New Year because of Persia’s link to Zoroastrianism (one of the world’s oldest religions based on the elements of the earth and nature), and it has been officially a part of their calendar since the 11th century. The word “Nowruz” in Persian translates to “New day.” Also during the Soviet Union’s rule banning religious celebrations—even though the celebration of Nowruz spread through Caucasia, Central Asia and the Balkans—the only country ‘officially’ celebrating Nowruz was Iran. Nowruz is believed to be an at least 3000 year old holiday!
Banned in the USSR
The holiday was officially banned in 1937 by the Soviet Union constitution. However, people secretly celebrated it. Now, the list of countries having Nowruz listed as a public holiday include: Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Week long (plus) celebration
The number of days celebrated for Nowruz varies greatly by country. For example- Albania officially celebrates one day, while Azerbaijan’s official holiday is March 20-26: 7 days! This doesn’t count the weekend it will overlap, so people in Azerbaijan can get around 10 days off of work. Needless to say, it’s a big deal!
One month before: honoring the elements
While the holiday itself can take up to 10 days, there’s even more celebrations leading up to it. In Azerbaijan in particular, each Tuesday the 4 weeks leading up to Nowruz is an additional celebration- each dedicated to the elements: earth, fire, water and wind, respectively. The time spent considering the significance of the elements branches from the Zoroastrian influence.
The best part! Celebrating Nowruz involves traditional foods, music, dancing, visiting and most importantly- fire. A big bonfire is started in the beginning of the night. Everyone dances and converses around it for hours until it settles down to a low flame/coals. At this point of the night people jump over it to symbolically burn off any fortunes of the previous year and wish to step into health, energy, and warmth for the new year.
One of the notable customs of Nowruz is for kids to leave a hat in front of a neighbor’s door, and the house owner fills it with treats such as candy or pastries, in some cases money.
Holiday cleaning is also a big part of the holiday, as it is a great way to start the new year fresh.
Nowruz is a reason for relatives to get together. On the main night of the holiday the family gathers for a large and special dinner. Which bring us to…
Generally there will be large dinners with traditional foods such as Plov, but the most notable tradition for Nowruz in Azerbaijan is the pastries. There are always 3 pastries baked and displayed in a special way— on a platter called the Khonca (Xonça) which at the center is always some homegrown wheatgrass, Samanu (Səməni).
Shekerbura- intricately hand-decorated pastries filled with walnuts, sugar + cardamom:
Pakhlava (Baklava)- layered sweet pastry filled will walnuts or pistachios
Gogal- Savory buttery rolls with folded in spices like anise, caraway, tumeric, cinnamon and black pepper
It’s tradition to dye eggs with natural materials such as onion skins and play a game. You tap your egg with someone else. Whoever’s egg gets cracked- other one wins and takes the eggs.
Nowruz celebrations in Azerbaijan are a big deal, and a lot of fun with delicious pastries. Because so many days surrounding Nowruz are considered a national holiday, if you are around during this time everyone’s spirit will be high. It’s one of the best times to visit Azerbaijan.
In addition to private celebrations in homes, there are also many festivals, events and open concerts take place. It’s simply so much fun!
We hope you are able to experience the magic of Nowruz in Azerbaijan, or at least find reading about it interesting!
—Go Travel Azerbaijan